This weekend, the McKeen Center for the Common Good will send service trips to The Carpenter’s Boat Shop and Camp Sunshine, local community service organizations, as part of its Weekend Service Trips (WST) program. 

WST began in 2009 after the Center noticed Bowdoin students showing increased interest in service programs like the Alternative Winter and Spring Breaks, and Pre-Orientation trips, but couldn’t dedicate the lengthy time commitment those trips require.

“Those programs have six pre-trip meetings as opposed to the one weekend that leading a Weekend Service Trip involves,” said Jess Caron ’13, the McKeen Fellow in charge of the WST.

Jeffrey Chung ’16, a fomer WST participant, enjoyed his time helping seniors at a Portland high school write their Common Application essays. 

“As someone who has been through it, I wanted to provide as much help as I could,” he said. 
The number of trips each semester depends on student initiative. Students propose ideas to the McKeen Center, which helps the leaders organize travel, meals, advertisements and other logistics. All Bowdoin students are eligible to lead a WST after attending a brief, informal training session.

Six trips will be organized this spring, while only two were sent out last semster.

Later today, David Vasquez ’14 and Wen Barker ’14 leave for Camp Sunshine, a free-of-charge, week-long camp for families and children with life-threatening illnesses, and has served over 40,000 individuals. Camp Sunshine is the only camp of its kind that provides services for not only the ill child, but also for all of the family members impacted.

The camp creates opportunities to meet other families in similar positions, and provides free counseling, accommodations and meals. 

The six students attending this weekend’s trip will work directly with children, throwing them a costume party and a talent show in addition to preparing meals.

Vasquez led trips last year but  has not yet volunteered at Camp Sunshine, a trip he says he has always wanted to lead. He and Barker proposed the idea to the McKeen Center, which helped them to contact the camp and organize the trip.

“Leading community service trips is a good way to help out the Maine community and get off campus to see other parts of the state,” said Vasquez. 

Another group, led by Ignatia Chen ’13 and Felicity Hills ’13, will head for Pemaquid, Maine to help The Carpenter’s Boat Shop install cedar shingles on the boat barn and cut a new trail from the boathouse through the woods. 

The Boat Shop was founded in 1979 as an apprenticeship school and community to learn about boatbuilding, carpentry, furniture making, sailing and seamanship, and to perform community service. Apprentices work for a period of nine months on the shop’s 21 acres of land. 

They typically build five or six skiffs and other more challenging craft such as peapods, dories or dinghies throughout their stay, in addition to crafting post and rung chairs and stools crafted from locally harvested red oak or ash. Adirondack chairs are built with the leftover wood that is too small to be used to build boats. The furniture and ships crafted at the Boat Shop are available for purchase.

The McKeen Center has sustained consistent relationships with many organizations, and often hears about opportunities for WST trips through students.  Last weekend, a group returned to Grafton, N.H. to do work on a local schoolhouse where Andrew Cushing ’12 and Melanie Gaynes ’13 co-led a trip last April.  The trip was proposed by Cushing, as Grafton is his home town.

In the coming weeks, the McKeen Center will offer day trips to Morris Farm in Wiscasset and Community Financial Literacy in Portland.